What is a polymath? A polymath is a person whose expertise spans a significant number of different subjects’ polymaths by today’s standards.
1.) Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826)
Thomas Jefferson is the 3rd US President and the principal author of the Declaration of Independence. He is describe by some as “polymath and President”. He is the 2nd Vice-President of the US and one of the best US Presidents. He was the founder of the University of Virginia. Jefferson is a well-known horticulturist, architect, political leader, musician, inventor, archeologist and paleontologist.
2.) Aristotle (384–322 BC)
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. He wrote on many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology and zoology. He numbers among the greatest polymaths of all time. “Aristotle was an extraordinary polymath…”
3.) Archimedes (c.287–c.212 BC)
Archimedes was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. He lived in Sicilian Greek town of Syracuse. Often considered one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, Archimedes is noted for several advancements in almost every relevant field in his era.
4.) Frederick II (1194-1250)
Frederick II was a Holy Roman Emperor. He was also King of Germany, Italy, Burgundy and Sicily. He lived most of his life in Sicily. Frederick II is a polyglot speaking nine languages with high literacy in seven. He was a respected warrior and wise negotiator, who cultivated arts and letters. He is known in his time as “stupor mundi”, wonder of the world, a kind of 13th century substitute for “polymath”.
5.) Pythagoras (c. 580–490 BC)
Pythagoras was a Greek mathematician and philosopher of 6th century BC who founded a school in Crotone in south Italy and a philosophical system, Pythagoreanism, named after him. Pythagoras was thought to be a polymath by his contemporaries. He is sometimes credited with coining the term “philosopher”, literally a “lover of wisdom,” and considered among the first to follow this vocation.
6.) Shen Kuo (1031–1095)
Shen Kuo was a Chinese scientist, statesman, astronomer, meteorologist, geologist, zoologist, botanist, pharmacologist, agronomist, ethnographer, encyclopedist, poet, general, diplomat, hydraulic engineer, inventor, academy chancellor, finance minister and inspector “Chinese polymath and astronomer who studied medicine, but became renowned for his engineering ability.”
7.) Ibn al-Nafis (1213–1288)
Ibn al-Nafis was an Arab physician, anatomist, biologist, physiologist, surgeon, ophthalmologist, Ulema, Hafiz, Muhaddith, Shafi’I jurist and lawyer, Sunni Theologian, philosopher, litterateur, logician, novelist, psychologist, scientist, science fiction writer, astronomer, cosmologist, futurist, geologist, grammarian, linguist, historian, philosopher of history, philosopher of religion, natural philosopher and sociologist. “Ibnul-Nafees was not only a great physician and discoverer of the minor blood circulation (pulmonary circulation), but he also had many interests, views and works about many other branches of knowledge
8.) Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber) (721–815)
Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber) was born in Tus in Persia a Persian (or Arab) Muslim chemist, alchemist, astrologer, astronomer, engineer, pharmacist, physician, philosopher, physicist and scientist. “Jabir was a polymath who wrote 300 books on philosophy, 1,300 books on mechanical devices and military machinery, and hundreds of books on alchemy.”
9.) Akbar the Great (1542–1605)
Akbar the Great was an Indian Mughal emperor, “polymath”, architect, artisan, artist, armorer, blacksmith, carpenter, construction worker, engineer, general, inventor, lace-maker, ruler, technologist, theologian and writer.
10.) Xu Guangqi (1562–1633)
Xu Guangqi was a Chinese bureaucrat, agricultural scientist, astronomer, and mathematician in the Ming Dynasty, who also helped in the translation of several classic Western texts into Chinese, including part of Euclid’s Elements. Xu has been described as “a fascinating polymath who spread his interests far and wide for a specific purpose: statecraft.”
Other notable polymaths…
Ja’far al-Sadiq (702-765)
Ja’far al-Sadiq was a polymath: an astronomer, alchemist, Imam, Islamic scholar, Islamic theologian, writer, philosopher, physician, physicist and scientist. He was also the teacher of the famous chemist, Jabir ibn Hayyan (Geber), and a contemporary of Abu Hanifa founder of the Hanafi school of Sunni jurisprudence.
Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (Tusi) (1201–1274)
Nasir al-Din al-Tusi or simply Tusi was a Persian polymath, prolific writer, an astronomer, biologist, chemist, mathematician, philosopher, physician, physicist, scientist, theologian and Marja Taqleed. He was one of the greatest scientists of the thirteenth century; “the ensemble of Tusi’s writings amounts to approximately 165 titles on a wide variety of subjects (astronomy, ethics, history, jurisprudence, logic, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, theology, poetry and the popular science).”
Al-Farabi or Alpharabius “was a Muslim polymath and one of the greatest scientists and philosophers of the Islamic world in his time. He was also a cosmologist, logician, musician, psychologist and sociologist.